Within the past year or so, I started using journals as a place to record the constant stream of creative ideas—from picture books to parenting essays—that zip through my mind. I’d read a lot about manifestation and the power of spelling things out on paper in order to make them reality, so I tried it. Gradually, I started to see results. As a professional writer, I successfully pitched many of my ideas to publications and landed new writing opportunities with the help of journaling.
Experts agree that journaling can help with goal follow-through. “Just the act of writing things down might make us change our behavior,” says Andrea Bonior, licensed clinical psychologist and author of the Baggage Check column in the Washington Post.
My professional success made me wonder: Could pen and paper also improve my overall wellness? In particular, would the journaling process help me lose weight?
Related: How I Lost 100 Pounds In Just Over A Year Without Giving Up Pizza
Last spring, I had my second baby at age 33, and the extra pounds did not shed as easily as they did eight years prior with baby number one. And there was good reason for this: I was eating like I was still pregnant. Indulging in cravings had become a habit that didn’t disappear after the birth of my son.
I remembered seeing posts in my Pinterest feed about something called “bullet journaling,” and after some research, realized it’s quite the phenomenon. At first glance, a bullet journal appears to be a diary/to-do list hybrid. It’s a master notebook that streamlines and gathers your lists, calendar, notes, goals, and ideas in one place. But some people also use bullet journals to track their health goals and log things like daily water intake, step counts, and the amount of sleep they get each night. (Here are 7 things all super-productive people do.)
“Bullet journals lend an air of structure and organization that can feel comforting and allow us to view things more easily at a glance,” says Bonior. “It appeals to our need to categorize and sort.”
Since nothing else seemed to be working with my weight loss, and writing stuff down has always been my thing, I thought I’d give bullet journaling a shot. I hoped that recording my cravings, workouts, and health goals by filling pages with colorful, handwritten words and pictures could help me take back control of my health. Some nutritionists say documenting the healthy changes you’re making to your lifestyle can help you see results, and I hoped that would be the case for me. After researching templates on Pinterest and Instagram, I got to work on my own bullet journal.
Here’s how to start a bullet journal, according to the creator of the trend:
My goals were pretty basic (but as it turned out, not so simple):
- Lose 20 pounds.
- Be active on a consistent basis.
- Stop giving in to cravings (as often as possible).
To keep myself accountable, I used my bullet journal to log meals and experiment with 30-day fitness challenges. (Try this 8-week plank challenge to get stronger from head to toe.)
I know that what we fuel our bodies with is even more important than how much we move them, so I included a page where I tracked unhealthy cravings. When I started to see repeats, I made a chart that became as non-negotiable as brushing my teeth. In one column I listed the foods I craved most, and right next to it I listed the food to eat instead. For example, if I craved garlic bread, I would eat my healthier alternative of garlic zucchini chips instead. I copied this chart and put it on my refrigerator. For me, it cut back on any time I had to talk myself out of a healthier choice. I wasn’t perusing cupboards for another option; I simply ate the “replacement” that I’d predetermined.
Related: 13 Salty Snacks That Can Actually Help You Lose Weight
Before using a bullet journal, I had tried various apps for logging my food choices. I thought since my phone was always with me, this method made the most sense and would be the most convenient. In reality, I’d use the app for a few days and then forget about it. Instead, I started and ended each day at my desk with a cup of tea, reflecting upon my bullet journal. Because of this routine, recording my meals and snacks by hand worked out better for me. (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)
Though tracking what I ate was helpful, I quickly learned that I had to dig deeper if I wanted to see results. I started to think about how weight loss could positively impact my parenting, my relationships, my confidence, and my social life. For me, this became an important technique because when there was an emotion attached to the outcome, I was more committed to my goals.
I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some vanity to my weight loss journey. Before the past year, I’d never been concerned about the number I saw on my scale, as long as I “felt good.” In fact, I didn’t even own a scale until this past summer. So I knew that ultimately, I had to get back to the mindset I’d adhered to most of my life: What I felt on the inside would project on the outside. (Here’s why being grateful leads to happiness, and not the other way around.)
“Feeling good” did not come from wearing my maternity clothes six months post-delivery, so one way I used my bullet journal was to cross off the pounds as I dropped them, and then reward myself with a new non-maternity item for every five pounds lost.
Related: Jillian Michaels Says These 6 Easy Tips Will Help You Lose Weight Like You’re On ‘The Biggest Loser’
What has been really fulfilling about bullet journaling isn’t just the 10 pounds I lost in one month, but how being mindful in this one area of my life has led me to be more mindful all-around. We all have full schedules of family commitments, but that doesn’t mean we have to rush through our days, sometimes unaware of the choices we make or things we say.
Creating a bullet journal has also kept me organized—something that has been a huge challenge for me throughout life. (Psst! Here are 5 principles you need to follow to get organized, according to experts.) And, surprisingly, adding this step to my routine frees up more of my day because I spend less time thinking about what I have to do and more time acting upon those tasks.
My advice: If you’re thinking about incorporating bullet journaling into your life, give this tool time to work. Research suggests it takes 21 days to form a habit, and some scientists say the process can take even longer. Bottom line: Change takes time. (Here are 7 bullet journal formats that can help you lose weight.)
Here’s an example of how to set up a bullet journal for health and fitness tracking:
Related: The Foolproof Way To Break Any Bad Habit
Make sure to also find what works best for your needs and interests. At first, I compared my bullet journal pages to the gorgeous, mesmerizing ones I saw on Pinterest. I had to remind myself of Picasso’s quote: “Every child is an artist.” I may not be a child, but you catch my drift.
“Don’t seek perfection. Don’t commit to something that can be impossible to maintain when life gets complicated—so if you’re expecting yourself to spend a half hour every night charting and categorizing different aspects of your behavior, or writing only with the most beautiful of handwriting, you’ll be disappointed,” says Bonoir. “Perhaps most important, get back on the wagon when you fall off. If you miss a day, don’t let it be the end.”
The beauty of bullet journaling is in the real-life results you’ll get. For me, that was losing the weight, but perhaps more importantly, gaining a mindfulness that helps me be more organized in all aspects of my life. Whether you’re looking to eat better, be more grateful, or get fit, there are bullet journal formats (here are some for inspiration) that can help keep you on track—just make sure to talk to your doctor about your plan first.
The article Bullet Journaling Helped Me Lose Weight And Curb My Cravings—Here’s How I Did It originally appeared on Prevention.